Well-told account of the debate that shaped the American system of government.
Chadwick (History/Rutgers Univ.; I Am Murdered: George Wythe, Thomas Jefferson, and the Killing That Shocked a New Nation, 2009, etc.) shows how three brilliant, very different men—Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay—worked to overcome opposition to the U.S. Constitution. In 1787 and ’88, the triumvirate wrote a series of 85 essays known as the Federalist Papers, most published in newspapers under the pseudonym “Publius,” advocating ratification of the Constitution, which had been drafted during a convention in Philadelphia in 1787. The Constitution aimed to improve the ineffective system of government defined by the Articles of Confederation. Under that system, there was no president, no supreme court and only one house of congress, which could not levy taxes or pass any laws without unanimous approval from all the states. Such radical decentralization simply didn’t work, and many, including Hamilton, Madison and Jay, believed a constitutional republic would solve a host of problems. Many others, however, initially opposed the new constitution, fearing it would transfer too much power from the states to the federal government and restrict individual liberties. As Chadwick points out, the road to ratification was anything but smooth. The author effectively details the fierce debates in Massachusetts, Virginia and New York, and the serpentine political machinations that helped bring about the birth of a nation. Along the way, he paints sharp portraits of the three men who perhaps fought hardest—Madison confided to a friend that the arguments at the Virginia convention “almost killed him”—for the system of government we know today.
Not just a history lesson, but an examination of the fundamental ideas that gave birth to the United States.